BD Dautch of Earthrine Farms: The Practice of Love, Joy and Compost

March 15, 2012
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Photo by Ron Wallace

By Steve Sprinkel

Love Is My Religion by Ziggy Marley is what you hear while you wait for BD to answer his cell phone. I am calling him to buy something like oranges or rainbow chard or warn him I have a ton of used waxed vegetable containers for him to pick up. The stacks can get out of control. If he doesn’t answer the call, his message signs off with Give Thanks! I do, and I am glad to be reminded.

We don’t need to continue scavenging cardboard boxes after all these years, but keeping them out of the landfill is a hard habit to break. We pass re-fabricated boxes back and forth to one another, swathed in duct tape. BD highly regards the renovation of what is otherwise thrashed. No box is too limp to get one last trip down the produce highway. With BD I think it’s all about the service, in this case honoring trees.

BD is conscientious and aware of his potential to do good. He went to the University of Pennsylvania, where vegetables first spoke to him, saying “Plant me.” His first garden was of the urban guerilla variety, encompassing whole neighborhoods, where he surreptitiously planted old potatoes and onions. Now he hears many voices, planting the widest array of produce in the region. His tables at the farmers’ market are noisy with color and texture.  BD doesn’t seem to regard his crops as products in the commercial sense. I do give him money for them, but the old boxes bear communion.

BD got a new white Dodge truck last year. It is so out of character somehow, but he explains it was a matter of practicality. The old Chevrolet could not be depended upon to arrive as scheduled with precious perishables, and the disappointment of eager consumerist friends was probably equal motive to the financials. I do miss the brave signature of the old heap, though. But, people need to eat! They urgently gather on Pavlovian Sundays jonesing for the rush that only Earthtrine Farm’s arugula and Winter Density lettuce can deliver.  BD and I have shared a peculiar pathway for 30 years and yet we are not great friends, more like second cousins. Helping one another is kind of a kinship gig. We started out this way and so remain. We are cut from the same cloth, but BD wears less of it. I have never seen him in long pants. We have shared the same towns and even the same growing ground. We were pioneer farmers together at the old Santa Barbara farmers’ market when it was just 16 cardboard box recyclers hawking beets on a muddy lot on Ortega. BD sold Robert Lower’s dates then as well as his own produce, mostly as a service to Lower and the consumers. I wonder if BD still likes dates as much as he once did. He was quite a connoisseur of the Barhis and Halawis, which we rarely see in the general marketplace.

BD is old school. He does things on a personal basis, depending on the truth of real time reality. He very recently got email but continues to eschew computers. I am addicted to my gadgets, so his natural wisdom is manifest.  He is a certified organic farmer in the strictest sense. He uses none of the legally approved and vetted materials that are available because the active material may not be very harmful, but the mixture is a mostly a mystery. The fluid carrying the desired insecticide or fungicide is probably not too threatening, but BD prefers to not take a risk. They are chemicals after all.

BD makes by far the most compost of any farmer in Ojai. Truckloads of locally sourced horse manure are piled in windrows throughout the farm, turned and applied to the 10 acres he farms on Cuyama Road. BD also farms in Carpinteria on land he has managed using the same simple practices since the 1980s so he can sell Ojai people lettuce in August grown on the cool coast. The horse manure is also a known quantity. The exotic bags of specially blended organic farm fertilizer he could use are not simple. The massive windrows of compost in Kern County, sourced from conventional dairy cattle eating genetically modified feed and full of chemical contaminants, pose questions BD cannot answer so he does not use the material.

He also prefers to market without anonymity. He is almost always at every farmers’ market weighing tomatoes and discussing epazote recipes. If he has not accompanied one of his children to college in Boston or to a fiddle concert in Santa Cruz he will be there. He will be at Ojai the day after he has made change all day in Santa Barbara. This is service I would not want to do because it is so demanding of one’s spirit.

At the markets these days one will encounter few proprietors like BD who brings so much authentic knowledge to his tables. And if there is selfishness at all in his attendance, it is no doubt only because he is receiving a celebratory vibe. There are many other ways to make much more money. The jolt of deep good within the $7 or buck-fifty transaction is an immutable force. The unspoken contract details in the trade are beyond commerce.

People flock to farmers like BD because trust has been achieved. You go because your sister-in-law is going to love this herb salad dressing you promised to make. BD goes because he is delighted. The stuff lovingly unloaded out of those beater boxes is the manna of a latter day miracle, miraculous because it arrives in a world so dense with hype and game. There is something crucially important in the simple.

This is BD’s practice. He is fluidly lighthearted.  He is the effortless master, handing over real fresh food from a pristine environment he guards for you and for himself and his family and his co-workers. The bundles of turnips are bound with hope. The flowering thyme is an herb for your kitchen that smells like BD’s garden. You set it on your cutting block and your home has been lifted away to purple beds drawn between rows of orange trees filled with fruit. At the far end of the row two blonde blurs are racing through the trees.

Steve Sprinkel, a native Los Angeleno, has farmed in Texas, Hawaii and in many localities throughout California including five sites in Ojai, where he also operates The Farmer and the Cook market and restaurant with his wife, Olivia Chase. 

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